I was contemplating the ineptitude of my local sports teams during my commute this morning, and I realized that I have more concrete memories of sporting events that happened 20-30 years ago than shit that happened last week. Since I write this blog for ME (just like Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV), I wanted to take some time to document some of these memories, especially given some of the recent events with my Dad.
1970 is my first recollection of being interested in sports. It was the 49ers and their playoff team of John Brodie, Gene Washington, and Jimmie Johnson, and it started a love affair that spanned the last 35 years. It also was the start of a lifetime hatred of the frickin’ Cowboys, again spanning 35 years. My dad went to a game that year at Kezar and brought home a program which I read cover-to-cover multiple times. I still have the offensive line memorized from that year (honest, with no looking, Banaszak, Peoples, Blue, Beisler, and Rohde). Scary. I couldn’t tell you the Niner o-line from last year.
’71 and ’72 ended similarly for the Niners, at the hands of the frickin’ Cowboys, though I do remember ’72 as being the year of Steve Spurrier. Brodie broke his leg early in the year and Spurrier led the 49ers to the division title, though he required heroics from Brodie in the last game against Minnesota. The last play was a precursor to “Sprint Right Option” with Brodie rolling right and hitting Dick Witcher in the back of the endzone. Yeah, I remember that play from 33 years ago clearly, but I can’t remember a single play from last year. Not a one.
’71 was my first year of following the Giants. Mays, McCovey, Marichal were all aging stars and they won the West. It was a booming time in the Bay Area then, and a great time to be a kid. In ’71, the 49ers, Giants, Raiders, and A’s all made the league championship games… and all lost. Still, it was easy for a seven-year old kid to start loving sports then.
Though the A’s won the series in ’72-’74, I was never a fan. I started following the Warriors around that time. I still remember going to my first game in Oakland, I think in ’72. The Warriors still had Jerry Lucas and Nate Thurmond, but what I remember most clearly is the ride home where my dad narrowly avoiding a head-on collision on the freeway with someone driving the wrong way on Hwy 17 (later to become 880). The ’74-75 Warriors won the NBA title and I still remember watching some of the games on tape delay at 11:30 PM on CBS. I still hate Mike Riordan. Anyway, I have the LP (!) with the highlights from that year, and put it on the turntable every year or so, just so I can reminisce about when the Warriors didn’t suck.
A relatively dead period in my fandom followed as high school and puberty took center stage. I remember the ’76 49ers, if only because Jim Plunkett led the 49ers to a near-playoff experience that was derailed by Steve Fucking Mike-Mayer blowing multiple games by missing extra points and field goals. As a matter of fact, I remember the d-line from that year: Cedrick Hardman, Tommy Hart, Cleveland Elam, and Jimmy Webb. Pathetic.
The Giants had a brief run back to respectability with the Chili Davis, Jack Clark teams of the late ‘70’s and early 80’s, but mostly sucked. As did the Warriors. And the 49ers sucked really bad in the late ‘70s.
And then came Joe.
When the 49ers drafted Joe Montana, I was pretty happy with the pick. After all, I had HEARD of him. I had seen him on TV and in bowl games! Remember, the draft back then wasn’t a media event with Mel Kiper and Chris Berman. All your info on college football came from watching ABC on Saturday afternoon watching the scoreboard show, and the occasional regional game. The big hullabaloo was around first pick James Owens, who ended up being a total stiff, but I had HEARD of Joe Montana. Bill Walsh initially used him as a goal-line veer specialist, running bootlegs with him whenever they got within the 5-yd line. I actually went to a game in ’80, partially because a girl I liked (and ended up dating for four years) was in the marching band that performed at halftime. Of course, within a couple of years, it was impossible to “walk up” and get tickets to see the 49ers.
The ’81 season was magical, but started off just so-so. I think the Niners were 2-2 and playing the Redskins (who might have been 4-0). This is totally from memory, a simple Google search would confirm, but I want the memory to be unaided. ONE play turned the season around. Redskins are running a sweep to the right from 49er territory (either Joe Washington or Terry Metcalf). Ronnie Lott comes up from the corner and literally flips him ass-over-teakettle as the ball pops out towards the sideline. Dwight Hicks picks it out of the air on a dead run and takes it up the left sideline for a touchdown. Joe Theeeesman almost caught him, but ran outta gas around the ten. From that moment, the season was theirs.
I could literally recap hundreds of plays from that year. The memories are crystal clear. I still have the NFC Championship game (the “Catch”) and the Super Bowl (the goal-line stand) on video. National anthem was Diana Ross, halftime was Up with People. Funny how memories work. It’s like that season is in a protected spot in my brain, free from the accidental erasures that we all have on a daily basis.
Same for the ’84 season, which was the BEST 49er team, and arguably the best NFL team ever. (as Squints would say, “FOR-EVER, FOR-EVVV-VERR”). They came within a horrible official’s call against the Steelers of going 19-0 that year, settling for 18-1 and a complete annihilation of the Marino-led Dolphins in the Super Bowl. One of the greatest one-time commercials ever seen (at least to me) came at the end. You see Montana and Marino walk up to a Pepsi machine in full uniform, apparently post-game. As Marino prepares to slide in his quarters, Montana says “I got it” and buys Marino and himself an ice-cold Pepsi. They both pop their cans and as Montana walks away, Marino says “Hey Joe, next year I’ll buy”. Priceless. And never seen again.
Sheesh, I’ve just written about memories from over twenty years ago that are clearer than any other pro sports memories from the last five years. I’m gonna stop now before I depress myself even more about the state of Bay Area sports. Go Sharks!